Stanwick Group of Churches

January Letter

As I sit typing away, our Christmas tree is freshly decorated with an assortment of baubles, tinsel, pre-school and school made decorations, and a growing collection of ornaments chosen each year by the boys. This year I was amused by Laurence’s choice of Santa’s magic key. Chad helped choose six little robins which now sit proudly on their branches.

A couple of years ago Liverpool Cathedral congregation were delighted too when a real-life robin took up residence in the Cathedral Christmas tree. Back in 2013 the owner of a flower shop in Grantown on Spey in Scotland, was equally delighted when a robin decided to take up residence in a festive tree decoration in her shop, singing away to customers!

We British have a special fondness for robins and Christmas cards depicting the cheery reds of a robin against the snowy whites of a romantic Christmas scene remain popular (though apparently robins have lost ground to polar bears in recent years).  It is said that the reason robins appear on Christmas cards dates back to the 1880s and the first postmen who wore red jackets and became known as ‘robins’.  Victorian artists often illustrated Christmas cards with the delivery of letters and one artist decided to draw an actual robin, instead of its human namesake, with a card in its beak.

However, the association of robins with Christmas goes back much further in folklore, with a robin said to have been part of the stable scene in Bethlehem. One fable tells that when the baby Jesus was in his manger in the stable, the fire which had been lit to keep him warm started to blaze up very strongly. A brown robin placed himself between the fire and the face of baby Jesus, fluffing out its feathers to protect the baby. The robin’s breast was scorched by the fire and this redness was then passed onto future generations of robins.

The robin has quite a reputation for kindness and piety in folklore. Another fable says that the robin got his red breast when, at the Crucifixion, the robin shared in our Lord’s suffering. The little brown bird wiped Christ’s face with his wings and pulled a thorn from his brow, and his breast was splashed with drops of blood. It is also said that if the kindly robin finds a dead body he will tenderly cover the corpse with moss or leaves.

Much as we love the robin, I’m not sure that it deserves such a virtuous reputation for the cheerful, melodious song of the robin is primarily a warning to rivals not to come too close, and the pretty red breast is a symbol of aggression. The robin will fiercely defend its territory, the little home patch where, come February time, it hopes to attain and retain a mate and begin raising several broods.

Territory or ‘personal space’ is also important for us humans. We all need time and space for reflection, for rest, and quiet, and prayer. We all need privacy and a place where we can live and sleep safely and securely. But we also need to open our doors. We need community and the friendship and support of one another, and we also need to keep an eye out for those who might be feeling vulnerable, lonely and isolated.

One of the most endearing things about robins is the way in which they appear so friendly and can so easily become tame. They will feed from our hand and the boldest of robins will hop through a door or window into our home if invited. They may even become so bold as to knock or gently tap.

I am reminded of Holman Hunt’s ‘The Light of the World’ and the text for his painting (Revelation 3 v20: ‘Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.’). Jesus, light of the world, stands outside a closed door, knocking and waiting. There is no special magic key. He stands there as our friend, our most faithful companion, as our Saviour. He will not invade our space. Only when we open the door to admit him will he come in with his love and light, peace.

With best wishes for the New Year,



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